Your Folks, My Folks in Prehistory

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I got an inspiring question from Z at Enkla bloggen.

“Who made the rock carvings, hällristningar? Was it the Saami people?

Is this a sensitive matter? I’ve already asked several archaeologists but they haven’t answered me.”

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Google Misunderstands Swedish Mentality

Here’s something cool. Google is attacking proposed Swedish wiretapping legislation.

“We have contacted Swedish authorities to give our view of the proposal and we have made it clear that we will never place any servers inside Sweden’s borders if the proposal goes through.”

Good thing someone outside the country is reacting!

I don’t know much about this issue, but I think Google may have misunderstood the situation. It may actually just be a question of how the Swedish authorities operate. Because all governments spy to some extent on their citizens. Only in Sweden and a few other countries are they idealistic and formalistic enough that they try to go public with activity like this and actually regulate it. If Stockholm had politico brothels like the ones making the news in Washington D.C., then they would be state-subsidised co-ops.


By the way, if a few more Dear Readers would punch the Technorati Favourite button to the left, then Aard would leave Afarensis in the dust. Mwahahaha!

5 Minutes of Kiddie TV Fame

Two months ago my metal detecting team and I were visited in the field by the Swedish State Broadcasting company’s TV science show for kids, Hjärnkontoret. They tell me they’re running the story tonight, somewhere between 1830 and 1900 hours Swedish time. For those who choose to watch, it may be entertaining to know that minutes before the TV crew appeared on site, we found a 4th century ring made of a material we don’t talk to the media about. So in the footage, everybody’s quietly euphoric yet clamming up, while the TV people are being really thrilled to get to try out a metal detector and find iron nails. They were really nice, I wish we could have shared with them.

The show’s supposed to be available here until 30 June in WinMedia and RealMedia formats, though I haven’t been able to make it work myself. Try it!

Lamprey’s Spinal Cord Modelled

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In Stockholm on 14 June, my psychedelic friend and fellow honorary Chinese Mikael Huss will present his PhD thesis in engineering (available on-line). He has built software models of bits of the lamprey’s spinal cord. The book’s title is Computational Modeling of the Lamprey CPG. From Subcellular to Network Level — CPG means “central pattern generator”.

I understand little of this. I just want to eat the lamprey.

Thesis abstract below the fold.
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Archaeological Fist Fights in Lund

This year’s issue of the Lund Archaeological Review reached me last week. It’s the volume for 2005-2006, and most of the papers are dated 2005. Such a delay is no big deal in archaeology: our knowledge growth doesn’t progress at the rate typical of the natural sciences.

What caught my attention in the new issue was three polemic pieces at the back of the volume. First there’s another salvo in the war between my buddy Påvel Nicklasson and his erstwhile colleagues at the Jönköping County Museum. To the extent that I understand the conflict, what seems to have happened is that Dr. Nicklasson, a highly qualified research scholar with poor diplomatic skills, got a job at a small museum and decided that the contract archaeologists there weren’t so hot on the research side. A big fight ensued and reached print in a condescending book and a very angry journal paper in 2005.

In the new paper, Påvel’s co-author is another buddy of mine, professor Lars Larsson, who holds the chair in archaeology in Lund and once supervised Påvel’s PhD research. It seems Lars is involved mainly because the Jönköping people suggested that Påvel’s book about their area a) should not have been published by the Lund department, b) should be withdrawn and destroyed. In their reply, Nicklasson & Larsson allude to fascist book bonfires and conclude with the words “Shame — double shame on you!!” (yes, there are two exclamation marks). A messy business, and frankly one that doesn’t show any of the people involved from their best side.

The following two pieces are baffling in another way, and I have to check the literature before I take sides. Last year I wrote appreciatively about a paper in the previous issue of LAR. Anders Berntsson argued among other things that, due to a simple miscalculation, Henrik Thrane’s commonly quoted estimation of the amount of work involved in building a Bronze Age barrow is four times too high. In the new LAR issue, productive Bronze Age scholar Joakim Goldhahn has a piece where he claims that Berntsson

  • a) misread the estimation he criticised,
  • b) was disrespectful to Thrane, and
  • c) has a simplistic, functionalistic perspective.

Goldhahn, rather snarkily in my view, rattles off a long list of literature on Bronze Age ritual that he thinks Berntsson should have referenced.

So, how does Berntsson reply? He says that

  • a) he has not misread Thrane, Goldhahn has misread Berntsson,
  • b) Thrane was Berntsson’s thesis supervisor and happily approved the LAR manuscript where he pointed out the miscalculation,
  • c) it should be possible to discuss labour estimates without referencing the literature on rituals.

I don’t understand this. Either Goldhahn is right about Thrane’s figures, and if so then I don’t understand how Berntsson can contradict him. Or Goldhahn is wrong, and then I don’t understand why he allowed his piece to be published. I mean, it makes him look really silly. Can it be that the LAR editors didn’t offer Goldhahn a retraction after they’d read Berntsson’s reply? Hasn’t Goldhahn seen the reply before it was printed?

We had a similar case at Fornvännen last year, and when we showed the “aggressor” what the defendant had written, the former realised that he had been proven wrong and quietly withdrew his piece. Scholarship isn’t helped by us publishing muddled bickering like that.

Anyway, I’ll be back with an update once I’ve checked what Thrane actually wrote in his 1984 book about Lusehøj.

Update same day: Good grief, Goldhahn tells me that he hasn’t seen Berntsson’s reply! The LAR editors published his piece without doing anything about the elementary yet crucial error that Berntsson had pointed out to them.

Update 26 June: Now I’ve checked the literature. Berntsson was right. Here’s a paraphrase of the entire exchange.

  1. Thrane 1984: “Building a barrow of Lusehøj’s size took about 12,900 person-days of ten hours each”.
  2. Berntsson 2006: “Thrane says it took about 129,000 person-hours. In fact, he has made a simple miscalculation. Given Thrane’s own data and arguments, the correct number is 32,900 person-hours.”
  3. Goldhahn 2007: “Berntsson has misquoted Thrane: he says that Thrane said that building a barrow of Lusehøj’s size took about 129,000 person-days of ten hours each!”
  4. Berntsson 2007: “No, what I said was actually that Thrane’s figure was 129,000 person-hours.”

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My Eugenics Project

I have the soul of a stamp collector. Some might object that it’s an unusually loud and psychedelic stamp collector, but I think it’s so. It shows in my research (data-heavy, fussing over terminological definitions, with a lot of statistics), in my attacks on nebulous jargon and muddled thinking in archaeology, in my affiliation with the skeptic movement, in the way I sort things into neat piles and papers into binders after throwing away as much as possible, in the way I do whatever my calendar tells me to do on a certain day, in the way I dislike sudden schedule changes and appointments with a “maybe”. There’s a strong systematising streak in the way my head works.

Reading this piece on the heritability of autism in Seed, I realised that with a different taste in women, I might now have been the father of an autistic child or two. Explains autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen (Borat’s uncle? cousin!): heredity studies suggest that autism-spectrum disorders may largely be due to an accumulating genetic predisposition to systematise. Have a little of this genetic factor, and you become a stamp collector or kick-ass programmer or me. Double that amount and you get Asperger’s syndrome. Double it again and you become an autist. The fact that autism has become so common in recent decades may not be due simply to better diagnostics: it may have to do with the radical post-war increase in female students at engineering schools. Nerd-on-nerd marriages were rare before.

Looking at the complete data set of women I have lived and procreated with (n=2), a 100% non-systematising tendency reveals itself. Both are smart ladies with strong artistic talents and a rich and complicated emotional makeup. Neither is capable of placing her clothes in a single neat pile or her paperwork in a binder with any degree of consistency. I’ve formed good partnerships with them: I’m good at everyday repetitive life, they’re good at taking a break from the daily grind and doing something fun.

And if Baron-Cohen’s idea holds, then my nerd-on-art-chick marriages have been beneficial in yet another way. I seem unwittingly to have been running a little eugenics project. Because my kids are very far from autistic. They have their mothers’ intelligence and artistic flair, they’re outgoing and empathic, and whatever they’ve gotten from me doesn’t seem to have harmed them. Maybe I can take credit for their social fearlessness. A tiny bit of Asperger factor isn’t so bad if it makes you unwilling to seriously consider that other people might not think you’re the best thing since sliced bread.

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Sublime Erotic Poetry

I love the ability to see what people type into search engines before they end up here (an ability provided, for instance, by Extreme Tracking). Much of the time, people are obviously looking for porn. Somebody just typed the following into Google:

Where I can put my penis in the women pic?

Yes, where, oh where indeed?

Swedish Heritage Blog

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The Swedish State Board of National Antiquities, Riksantikvarieämbetet, has been putting more and more useful things on-line in the past few years. The most recent addition is a blog in Swedish, K-bloggen, where a number of Aard readers and buddies of mine are writing some interesting stuff. Go, see, comment, learn the Swedish word for cultural resource management! Say after me please: “cull-TOUR-mil-yur-VOARD”.

Album Review: M Coast, Say It In Slang

i-3ee752e33a5c4d908c02e92ad95176be-sayitinslang.jpgMarshmallow Coast‘s 2000 offering Coasting is one of my favourite albums: quirky and cool neopsych with a lot of acoustic guitar and off-key singing. 2002’s Ride The Lightning also has some great songs (listen to “Classifieds”!), but their 2003 production Antistar is boring if not downright bad. It was thus with some misgivings that I put on 2006’s Say It In Slang. Dear Reader, I usually hate albums the first time I listen to them. But let me tell you that, to my surprise and delight, I found Say It In Slang as good as Coasting if not better. It’s a beautiful piece of cool jazzy guitar pop.

Guitarist and singer Andy Gonzales is no longer the band’s sole musical motor. In fact, the latest album isn’t credited to Marshmallow Coast, but to “M Coast”. While Gonzales’s masterful guitar playing and charmingly nerdy vocals are still much in evidence, he now shares the album space with two other lead singers: keyboardist Emily Growden’s effortlessly smooth soprano and veteran bass player Derek Almstead’s tenor on the druggier songs. Furthermore, Sara Kirkpatrick’s fine flute-playing is heard on most of the tunes.

It’s a slick and suave record, calmly up-beat, unaggressive yet intricate enough that it never crosses the line into muzak territory. Listen to Almstead’s bass — it’s high in the mix as it deserves to be. The band classifies their music as “tropical / psychedelic / J[apan]-pop”, but the most important influence I can identify is Steely Dan. If you’re into them, and if you like the Essex Green and Maggi, Pierce & E.J., then get this album ASAP. Floridans are in luck: the M Coast is touring the Sunshine State in early June.

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Radiocarbon Summer Bargain

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If you have a lot of samples lying around that you want to run through AMS radiocarbon analysis, then get thee to the Poznan lab’s informative web site. Tomasz Goslar tells me he’s offering a summer bargain. The standard price is €320 / $430 / £220 plus sales tax per carbon sample, with an additional fee for collagen extraction if you submit bone samples. If you order 10 analyses before 31 July, you get them at a 15% discount.

I’m a satisfied customer of the Poznan lab. They did the dates for the Skamby Iron Age settlement and the Sjögestad Viking Period barrow. Send your samples to Poland!

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